It is a widely believed that falling coconuts kill more than sharks, a claim that began with a study in 1984 “Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts” by Dr. Peter Barss.
In his paper, Barss observed that in Papua New Guinea (where he was based), over a period of four years, 2.5% of trauma admissions were for those injured by falling coconuts, with at least two fatalities.
Extrapolating from these statistics to account for the number of coconut trees worldwide, and the nearby population density, allowed Barss to conclude that falling coconuts kill over 150 people each year worldwide.
In subsequent years studies repeatedly confirmed this, with the actual figure believed to be closer to 220 per year in 2007.
However, recent efforts by authorities have reduced these numbers to fall below the shark attack death rate, which stands at around 5 per year.
Simply by earlier harvesting of coconuts and a technique known as ‘basketing’ (placing a small cot below each tree’s coconuts) has removed much of the risk.
Meanwhile, in poorer areas, locals have taken to using halved coconuts as a form of hard hat, strapped to the chin using the leaf of the palm tree.
A spokesperson at the national life guard in Papua New Guinea told NFN that the news had even put increased pressure on those involved in preventing shark attacks, who were now “embarrassed” by the figures.— NFN's Oliver Frost contributed to this report.