The greatest danger on a desert island? A coconut falling on your head!

Oct 09, 2011 · Curiosities,Life in Desert Islands

Green Coconut

For all those who on deciding to go to a desert island ask me questions like: What if a snake gets into my bed?What if a shark bites my leg?…or the best of all….What should I do if I come face to face with a tiger?  And my answer is always:

What you do have to be careful of are the coconuts!!

“You’re joking” is what you may be thinking.  NO, I say as tigers don’t live on desert islands – A great relief for all, I’m sure – nor are sharks to be seen in these beautiful waters – least of all those which attack humans – nor do snakes go anyway near people – it’s us who have to go looking for them -.  But, yes, there are coconuts and they make their presence known throughout the day with a resounding thud as they hit the floor. These are the Falling Coconut Deaths – Coconut Falling on Head!!

A green coconut, full grown and with its shell, still on the palm tree, can weigh up to two kilos (41/2 lbs.)  because it’s full of water.  If you take into account that palm trees can grow as high as 30 metres (98 feet) which is about the height of an 8 storey building, the speed with which a coconut falls reaches around 85 km/hr (53 mph). This means that the force of the coconut as it hits the ground is equivalent in weight to a ton.  Or, looking at it a different way, if it did fall, this fruit so highly valued by castaways, would have the same effect as a Austin Mini falling from about a foot and a half above your head. 

Yellow CoconutsThere are no reliable records on this subject but it is estimated that every year about 150 people die as a direct cause of this. This number isn’t as high as it could be if it is taken into account that there are millions of people living amongst palm trees but, take note, it’s still ten times higher than the number of people who die each year from shark attacks!

The majority of the people whose deaths were caused by falling coconuts were having a nap under the coconut palm, a ‘siesta’ from which they never awoke.  Of all the different types of accidents from coconut palms, the worst one is if you are caught lying down which is to say that  it’s much better to be standing up when the coconut does a K.O.  If it catches you on the head when you’re lying down it’s mortally dangerous because the head is in direct contact with the floor so the ‘braking distance’ on impact is zero.  The best advice to follow is that if you’re going to get in the way of a falling coconut, make sure you’re standing up!

It may seem a bit of an obsession, but when I’m walking around a desert island I can’t help but look out of the corner of my eye at the tallest palm trees so I can avoid being in ‘target range’.  This means that as I walk along the beach I may look a bit ridiculous or even ‘tipsy’ as I work my way along with zigzag movements.   The main palm tree in the following photo would be, without doubt, the perfect place to zigzag, I would even consider going into the sea to avoid an ‘accident’…

 
High Palm Tree on Beach

But I wouldn’t ask you to follow my example because the threat isn’t really so real. What is certain, though, is that on uncountable occasions I have seen coconuts fall too close for comfort, and you can hear their peculiar ‘thud’ on the video of the monkey.  Be careful, as there are islands like the one in the following photo where walking along the beach can be ‘risky’ and it could even be advisable to ‘swim’  round the island. The reason, obviously, is that as the statistics say, the chances of being hit by a coconut are ten times greater than being  ‘bit’ by a shark!!

Palm Tree Beach Scene

Now you tell me: Have you lived to tell the tale of being hit on the head by a coconut?  Do you zigzag when walking on a desert island, or have you a better way of protecting yourself?  Leave your comments below and we’ll talk about it!

And of course, if you think any of your friends should know the risk they are facing under palmtrees, click on the buttons just here, below, to share it with them. Thanks for your support!

Follow Us!

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

deepak September 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Hello sir,
I am deepak I want to ask about how protect from coconet falling towards head, because in my front of my house there are two coconet trees we are walking under that, we are worry about that if in case it follow under the head so please tell me how to protect from that.

-thanks…

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo November 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm

The best solution is to clean the coconuts every month. You just need to take the most mature coconut. You should be careful specially when is windy.

Reply

Fitri Ciptosari November 5, 2012 at 8:27 am

I always tried to take shelter from too much sun, when in the safe zone of the heat – sitting and relax under the coconat tree – then I feel threatened by the coconuts that probably bumps my head.

Reply

Alvaro Docastaway November 5, 2012 at 10:05 am

So from now on.. you should bring an umbrella :D

Reply

Fitri Ciptosari November 6, 2012 at 1:35 am

ok ok Capt. Jack Sparrow :) i don't mind the sun then :D

Reply

BOB May 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm

how can I protect myself from a falling coconut in Wisconsin, because I herd its windy these days and I dont want a California coconut flying here and hitting my head.

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo July 29, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Hi Bob, sorry for the late reply. I think you shouldn´t be too worried. Please note the estimation is around 150 casualities per year, and bearing in mind that probably more than 50 millions of people around the world live surrounded by palm trees, the risk is actually too low. However, try to avoid passing under a coconut tree on windy days.

Reply

Rick July 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm

This is a bad statistic. There are not even close to 150 reported incidents

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo July 29, 2013 at 4:50 am

It is actually an estimation. Most of these accidents are supposed to happen in countries with no statistics. Maybe it is less, but it could be more as well.

Reply

Philip Caldwell October 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm

A little search on the net will show you that all of this is nonsense. The origin of the death by coconut legend has been traced back to Dr. Peter Barss' 1984 study titled "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts".In his research paper, Barss observed that in Papua New Guinea nine people were injured by falling coconuts that year, with at least one fatality. The figure went on to be misquoted as 150 worldwide.

Reply

Peter Brand October 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Phil you teacher !!

Reply

Alvaro Docastaway October 20, 2013 at 8:27 am

Hi Philip.

Thanks a lot for your remark :) Very interesting the Peter Barss's research.

I think it is very difficult to have an accurate data about the exact number, because most of these islands and countries don´t have any control on statistics. However, in Papua New Guinea only live 7 millions of people. To this Peter Barss's statistics we would need to add 250 Millions living in Indonesia, 600 millions in south India, 200 millions in Brazil, 100 millions in Philippines and at least 600 millions more living in other tropical regions in Caribbean, Central America, Africa, Indochina and Pacific Islands. So if every 7 millions there is 1 fatality, then it would make sense to happen at least 150 fatalities a year all around the world.

But in my personal experience, coconuts are a real threat. For example, 6 days ago, on Amparo Island, a coconut fell down at night time just less than a meter from me, and it was maybe a deadly one because the palm was up to 20-30 meters. When we have a client that will stay more than a week on a desert island, we send somebody to clean the palms before his arrival. because in our personal opinion, coconuts are a real threat on the deserted islands :)

Reply

Alvaro Docastaway October 20, 2013 at 8:52 am

One more remark Philip

When Peter Barss created this statistics in 1984, the population in Papua New Guinea was 3'5 millions so it is half of what is now. So by that token, the number of fatalities in Papua New Guinea, nowdays with 7 millions is at least 2 per year :) So I guess that in around 1.700 millions people living around the tropical world, there would be at least 150.

Please let me now your opinion. And again, thanks a lot for your remark. It was very interesting let people know about the Peter Barss's research.

Reply

brian uk October 21, 2013 at 7:45 pm

I’ve got one for you,how many people die from fall’s picking them lol :)

Reply

Philip Caldwell October 21, 2013 at 7:13 pm

No it's well known that it is a myth. They already got the 150 deaths by extrapolating figures to other regions but I'm afraid it's well known nonsense. It simply isn't true.

Reply

me November 3, 2013 at 4:03 am

it’s not non-sense. my mom got hit by a coconut in the head and mess her up bad her life since the day it happened until now which affected emotionally the whole family.
I love sitting under the coconut tree when I was young and wasn’t thinking about it’s danger at all.
Please be careful.

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo January 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Thanks for your remark!. I’m truly sorry about your mum. At least your story will help our followers to understand how serious is this issue.

I wish you and your family the best of luck

Reply

Sam December 11, 2013 at 8:26 am

Made me laugh haha n the aston mini was some great perspective! On a pmore personal level, since I love the ALA and other fatty acids, I take a tsp of coco oil a day. for health. I also love the ‘nazi’ (swahili for coconut wine!!!) drink down at the coast, and it really is healthy (na zdorovye?). So the irony in such a fate for me would earn me a Darwin award, Im sure lol.

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo January 19, 2014 at 10:36 am

XD XD XD

Reply

Natalie January 17, 2014 at 1:27 am

How tall does a coconut tree have to be for a coconut falling from it, to kill someone?

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo January 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm

It will depend on the size of the coconut and also on the position of the person when accident occur. But In my personal opinion a falling coconut can start to be dangerous when it falls from above 5 meters.

Reply

Toni January 31, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Hi there Alvaro
My sons are looking into booking an aventure on amparo island as you can imagine I’m a worried parent but i dont want them to know how worried I am, so before they do book could you let me know of any reviews people have posted anywhere else. Also any other information they may need to know before they leave . They are thinking of booking in May is that a good time of year for this for the weather ??
Thanking you
Antonia

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo February 2, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Hi Antonia

Thanks for your message. Yes, I am aware of the experience of your sons in Amparo Island. If I’m not wrong they are Geraldine & Bertrand.

If you don´t mind please send me an email to my personal account (which you can find on http://www.docastaway.com/pages/experience) and I will be happy to answer you all your questions.

Kind regards

Reply

Amanda Conrad May 7, 2014 at 6:03 pm

They should put nets up under the trees to catch the coconuts. At least in the places where people usually are.

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo May 7, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Thanks for the remark Amanda.

Actually, what it is commonly done is to peal all the coconuts from the trees in the ‘busy areas’. For example, in most the Comfort Mode desert islands we offer to our castaways, the palms tress located near the pathways are ‘clear’ in order to avoid accidents ;)

Reply

john May 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm

halp falling cocanuts hit head and i will die, coconaut dangers family remove the tree so it safe for the people thnx alvaro #coconut savior

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo May 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Thanks to you John!

Reply

Dave Newbold May 18, 2014 at 6:27 pm

When I was there in 2012, I noticed a lot of the coconut trees on YWAM-Kona camus are trimmed off of coconuts (for obvious reason) but when I lived in Pompano Beach, Fla, I was waiting for a bus & I was TRYING to tell a lady (on her cell phone speaking Caribbean Spanish) NOT to stand under one, she started to walk/talk when a coconut fell RIGHT where she had just moved from. SO BE CAREFUL

Reply

Dave Newbold May 18, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Click the article above to read the post ^

Reply

ben June 5, 2014 at 6:48 am

Afraid of sharks? Perhaps you should be more afraid of death by coconuts? I have had several females tell me they did not want to go (ahem) skinny dipping at night due to the fear of shark attack. I shall have you know that you are more likely to die from a coconut related injury than a shark attack. In approximately 1777, King Tetui of Mangaia in the Cook Islands had a concubine who died after being struck by “a falling green nut.” The palm tree responsible for the death was promptly removed. Lesson learned “don’t be a concubine”. In November 2010, The Guardian reported that the Indian government removed coconuts from the trees at Mumbai’s Gandhi museum “for fear that a nut would descend on to the head of President Obama” who had recently visited the city. The article cited the Barss study and observed: “Thanks to Indian officials and perhaps also to Barss, Obama’s recent visit to Mumbai was devoid of coconut trauma.” Not counting coconut bombs that the Japanese used in world
war 2, to add [insult] to injury, (or in this case death) In January 1943, a U.S. Marine was killed in his sleep upon being struck in the head by a falling coconut
near Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. He had survived four months of intense combat during the Guadalcanal Campaign and was scheduled to leave the island the following morning. In his history of the Marine Corps, Francis Fox Parry wrote: “To survive four months of bloodshed only to be taken by an unthinking coconut hours before departure is somehow more difficult to accept than being cut down by enemy fire.” If the thought of angry palm trees lobbing coconuts at people isn’t enough to disuade you, then perhaps you can think about variation conspiracies. In May 1997, a report of death by coconut oil was published. The production line manager at a factory in Kiev, Ukraine,
drowned in a vat of coconut oil. His body was discovered after he was reported as missing, and police were investigating to determine whether he fell or was pushed into the coconut oil. If you are still not convinced coconut trees are out to get us, CEO’S arent even exempt. In August 2011, the CEO of Milestone Capital, Ved Prakash Arya, was crushed and killed when a coconut palm tree fell on him in Mumbai. Not saying the tree did that willingly and intentionally.
Following the incident, the local municipal authority resisted proposals to cut down the trees, noting, “We don’t allow chopping down of coconut trees. The possibility of coconut trees falling down is very rare. The tree sustains huge wind velocity and suits the weather condition of city.” Further denial. If you STILL are not convinced, In March 2006, Newsweek ran a satirical article on former Enron CEO Ken Lay, stating he testified that he had sustained amnesia after being struck in the head by a falling coconut and as a result of the injury, was unable to recall the events that occurred during his time at Enron. Quite convenient. So, Florida friends, I urge you to take caution to this very real and potentially devistating danger, please think twice when propping yourself up against a shady palm tree this summer with a drink in hand. My fellow Buffalo friends, don’t worry about it until you come visit, and to all the single ladies out there you have a greater chance of dying from a coconut than if you go skinny dipping with me.

Reply

Alvaro Cerezo August 29, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Very interesting Ben! Thanks a lot for your remark!

Reply

Steven Young August 5, 2014 at 5:07 pm

This is all folklore! Now if you want to talk about being bitten by a Tiger or Hammerhead shark, I'll take my chances with the coconuts, but still no need to worry, just enjoy paradise. Aloha!

Reply

Steven Young August 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Just came across this and had to comment on this nonsense of scaring people.

Reply

Alvaro Docastaway August 29, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Interesting story. Thanks for sharing it with us Dave. Just an example, most of the palmtress in beach resorts are 'clean' from coconuts. The staff climb them and remove all of them usually once a month. Please keep in mind that the threat is real.

Reply

Alvaro Docastaway August 29, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Hi Steven. Sorry but I think this is not folklore. Otherwise most of the palm tress in beach resorts wouldn't be cleaned from coconuts. The staff climb them and remove all coconuts usually once a month. Please note my goal is not to scare our clients who are actually going to became castaways on desert islands. Our goal is actually to make them feel more relaxed as they are always scared about sharks and spiders, and the funny thing is that coconut is probably the major threat in most of them, but the risk is still very low :)

Reply

Morgan FamilyFirst Ghent September 21, 2014 at 4:09 am

Im Only reading this because half an hour ago I heard a pop above me, and thankfully kinda swayed sideways as I looked up just as the coconut brushed my arm on its way to the ground. YES this danger Does exist. I live in the Florida Keys… and if I didn't naturally sway to my left as I looked up to the right, That coconut would have been on my head!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Next post:

Docastaway