78.5 F
Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 19, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesPreventing Coconut Head Traumas

Preventing Coconut Head Traumas

Every October, chain e-mails of the Ig Nobel Awards find their way into our inboxes. Co-sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research, these honors celebrate trivial, absurd, albeit legitimate, scientific research, such as—and I am not making these up—why woodpeckers don’t get headaches, the side effects of sword swallowing, and a comprehensive survey of human belly button fluff.

We are nearing the tenth anniversary of one of the most ignominious Ig Nobel Awards, given to Dr. Peter Barss’ landmark paper, “Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts,” published in the November 1984 issue of Journal of Trauma. Although this paper received worldwide attention in 2001 thanks to its Ig Nobel Award, its ignominy should not overshadow the fact that—even after a decade of notoriety and more than a quarter century since its writing—it stands as possibly the most recent literature to deal with this dangerous phenomenon. Sadly, the antiquity of Dr. Barss’ article reflects the medical discipline’s neglect of such tragic injuries.
As Dr. Barss noted, considering the Cocos nucifera’s normal height (24-35 m) and its fruit’s weight (1-4 kg unhusked), a coconut falling at 32 ft/sec2 can exert a crushing force exceeding 1 metric ton. With an annual yield of 50 to 80 nuts per tree, it is evident that to stand in the general vicinity of a coconut palm is to stand in a death zone. I wouldn’t venture within half a mile of a coconut grove without donning an army helmet and the very latest in foam-insulated crash pads. Frankly, it’s miraculous that Pacific Islanders have managed to survive for millennia under such lethal bombardment. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from combat soldiers at Bougainville shows that the devastating effect of coconuts plunging on the enemy had as much to do with taking the island as did armored infantry. (“It was like the Japanese were sitting in an upside-down minefield,” recalled one GI. “They never had a chance.”)
Alarmingly, the potential increase in coconut-related injuries since Dr. Barss’ paper has yet to be addressed. The present population of Papua New Guinea—a segment of which on whom Dr. Barss based his data and case studies—now exceeds 6.7 million, with approximately 36 million living throughout Oceania. Dr. Barss’ 2.5% rate of hospital admissions in Papua New Guinea for coconut-related injuries may seem trivial at first, but when extrapolated across the whole of Oceania—prime coconut country—the numbers of potential dead and injured become pandemic. This is not a hazard indigenous only to a far-flung corner of the world. The Virgin Islands, of course, are rife with coconut palms, as is much of the world’s Tropics. Untold millions now live in close proximity to the coconut palm’s murderous canopy.
We stand at a critical juncture in the treatment and prevention of coconut-related head trauma. Perhaps for the first time in history, we not only possess the understanding of such a threat to human existence, but hold at our disposal the armamentarium to eradicate that threat.
But to do so, we need more research into the mechanics of free-falling coconuts and their impaction into the human body. We need more awareness so that government bodies will fund these studies and educate the public about the dangers of the seemingly tranquil coconut. We need warning signs adequately lining coconut groves and, at bare minimum, first-aid stations near enough to treat unfortunate victims.
We can render nil a lethal threat in our lifetime—a medical rarity for any era. We can save untold lives and preserve life for those who still fall prey to coconut-inflicted tragedy. But we cannot do so if we allow twenty-five years to elapse between studies and permit such threats to fade into the background until wide-scale calamity illustrates our ignorance.
Let ours be the generation that stamps out once and for all the carnage of the coconut.
There would be nothing “Ig nobel” in that!
Editor’s note: Randy S. Robbins is a freelance writer and editor who roams the U.S. Virgin Islands in fear for his cranium.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,718FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more

Every October, chain e-mails of the Ig Nobel Awards find their way into our inboxes. Co-sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research, these honors celebrate trivial, absurd, albeit legitimate, scientific research, such as—and I am not making these up—why woodpeckers don’t get headaches, the side effects of sword swallowing, and a comprehensive survey of human belly button fluff.

We are nearing the tenth anniversary of one of the most ignominious Ig Nobel Awards, given to Dr. Peter Barss’ landmark paper, “Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts,” published in the November 1984 issue of Journal of Trauma. Although this paper received worldwide attention in 2001 thanks to its Ig Nobel Award, its ignominy should not overshadow the fact that—even after a decade of notoriety and more than a quarter century since its writing—it stands as possibly the most recent literature to deal with this dangerous phenomenon. Sadly, the antiquity of Dr. Barss’ article reflects the medical discipline’s neglect of such tragic injuries.
As Dr. Barss noted, considering the Cocos nucifera’s normal height (24-35 m) and its fruit’s weight (1-4 kg unhusked), a coconut falling at 32 ft/sec2 can exert a crushing force exceeding 1 metric ton. With an annual yield of 50 to 80 nuts per tree, it is evident that to stand in the general vicinity of a coconut palm is to stand in a death zone. I wouldn’t venture within half a mile of a coconut grove without donning an army helmet and the very latest in foam-insulated crash pads. Frankly, it’s miraculous that Pacific Islanders have managed to survive for millennia under such lethal bombardment. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from combat soldiers at Bougainville shows that the devastating effect of coconuts plunging on the enemy had as much to do with taking the island as did armored infantry. (“It was like the Japanese were sitting in an upside-down minefield,” recalled one GI. “They never had a chance.”)
Alarmingly, the potential increase in coconut-related injuries since Dr. Barss’ paper has yet to be addressed. The present population of Papua New Guinea—a segment of which on whom Dr. Barss based his data and case studies—now exceeds 6.7 million, with approximately 36 million living throughout Oceania. Dr. Barss’ 2.5% rate of hospital admissions in Papua New Guinea for coconut-related injuries may seem trivial at first, but when extrapolated across the whole of Oceania—prime coconut country—the numbers of potential dead and injured become pandemic. This is not a hazard indigenous only to a far-flung corner of the world. The Virgin Islands, of course, are rife with coconut palms, as is much of the world's Tropics. Untold millions now live in close proximity to the coconut palm’s murderous canopy.
We stand at a critical juncture in the treatment and prevention of coconut-related head trauma. Perhaps for the first time in history, we not only possess the understanding of such a threat to human existence, but hold at our disposal the armamentarium to eradicate that threat.
But to do so, we need more research into the mechanics of free-falling coconuts and their impaction into the human body. We need more awareness so that government bodies will fund these studies and educate the public about the dangers of the seemingly tranquil coconut. We need warning signs adequately lining coconut groves and, at bare minimum, first-aid stations near enough to treat unfortunate victims.
We can render nil a lethal threat in our lifetime—a medical rarity for any era. We can save untold lives and preserve life for those who still fall prey to coconut-inflicted tragedy. But we cannot do so if we allow twenty-five years to elapse between studies and permit such threats to fade into the background until wide-scale calamity illustrates our ignorance.
Let ours be the generation that stamps out once and for all the carnage of the coconut.
There would be nothing “Ig nobel” in that!
Editor’s note: Randy S. Robbins is a freelance writer and editor who roams the U.S. Virgin Islands in fear for his cranium.