Climate Watch: Presence of Microplastics in ‘Kai’ Worries Vendors

There is presence of microplastics in edible freshwater mussels in the country, recent research has found.
20 Feb 2022 13:30
Climate Watch: Presence of Microplastics in ‘Kai’ Worries Vendors
Freshwater mussles sold at the Suva Municipal Market. Photo: Laiseana Nasiga

There is presence of microplastics in edible freshwater mussels in the country, recent research has found.

Titled ‘Presence and abundance of microplastics in edible freshwater mussels (Batissa voilacea) on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu’, the research was published in the Marine and Freshwater Research journal on February 7, 2022.

The study found that “freshwater mussels are ingesting microplastics in its environment hence representing a potential health problem for human consumption”.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of invisible plastic floating in our rivers and ocean. They are less than five millimetres in size.

The research is the first of its kind to investigate microplastics in the gills and soft tissues of freshwater mussels or ‘kai’ harvested from five rivers in the country. Microplastics were found in 100 per cent of the mussels sampled from all rivers.

The authors of the research journal are Eduardo Barrientos, Andrew Paris, David Rohindra and Ciro Rico.

Both Mr Paris and Mr Rohindra were also co-authors of a related research published in 2020 titled ‘Presence of microplastics in water, sediments and fish species in an urban coastal environment of Fiji, a Pacific small island developing state.’

It found that microplastics were found in the Suva coastal environment and they were associated with land based human activities.


The small-scale fishery is mostly dominated by women. They would spend two to four hours daily, free diving for ‘kai’ and sell them in the municipal markets or along the roadside stalls.

Letila Cevuga of Natoaika, Baulevu, Tailevu, sells ‘kai’ fortnightly at the Suva Municipal Market. She grew worried when heard of the latest research findings.

“This is the first time for me to hear that those freshwater mussels are ingesting microplastics.

We know it only ingests sand,” she said.

“If in any case, the research moves further to proving that it can affect people who consume it. It will be a real worry for many of us who highly depend on it to make a living.”

Ms Cevuga is among mothers who travel from Baulevu to earn a decent revenue to support their families.

A heap of ‘kai’ costs $5.

“We are able to put our children to school, shop for household items and give our share when a need comes up for a village contribution. It is through the earnings we make from selling kai,” she said.

“What will happen if this research leads to a ban of freshwater mussels? We are the ones who are going to be affected the most and for that I pray it will not end that way.”

‘Kai’ is an important fishery for the wetland livelihood and for people living near major rivers around the country.

Nanise Serupepeli is a proud grandmother who puts all her children and grandchildren through university by selling ‘kai’ in the Suva and Sigatoka corridors over the years.

“Kai is a good source of protein in any iTaukei menu, it is cheap and is a delicacy for many of us,” said the 61-year-old Naroro Village woman.

“But more importantly, freshwater mussels put money on the table to help families survive in this country.

“We soak kai in a bucket overnight to get rid of grit sand that could be in the meat of the kai before it can be cooked or eaten.

“We have been doing this practice for many years, but to hear that it might have microplastics, it is something very new to me.”

She requested that more research be done before any drastic changes were made by the Government if it were to be banned.

“These microplastics would have been there for years for a single kai to start eating it. We need to really educate the younger generations on the importance of marine life and its future to have a healthy future and environment,” she said.


Samples of mussels were harvested from five different rivers in the country – the Waibula, Rewa, Navua, Sigatoka and Ba rivers. Micro- plastic contamination was found in both gills and soft tissues of the freshwater mussels.

After careful tests, it was found that the dominant size of micro- plastics was less than 0.4mm, rep- resenting 52 and 50 per cent of all microplastics in gills and soft tissue respectively.

The research paper revealed a growing concern about the physical and chemical toxicity of microplastics as manufacturers use different chemicals.

It is also prone to absorb chemicals from the surrounding environment.

Nylon and fibre were the most abundant microplastic type and morphology.

The results obtained from the study served as a first baseline data on the degree of microplastic contamination in freshwater bivalves in Fiji.

Removal of the gills and guts be- fore consumption of the mussel is encouraged, the research paper said.

Questions were sent to the Department of Environment and the Ministry of Health. They remained unanswered when this edition went to press.

Government had banned the manufacture, sale, supply, and the distribution of single use plastic bags on January 1, 2020.

Whether the ban has any impact on the presence of microplastics in ‘kai’ will be an interesting area of study in the future.

Edited by Rosi Doviverata

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