Swan River shark attack death: Perth teen Stella Berry once designed a shark-free ocean pool for a local council

A teenage girl who tragically died after being attacked by a suspected bull shark in Western Australia once devised a clever plan to keep swimmers safe against great whites.

Year 11 student Stella Berry, 16, was mauled by a shark in Swan River, North Fremantle, where she was jet skiing with friends on Saturday.

But in 2017 she was featured in a local paper for her design of a shark-free ocean pool for Perth’s Cottesloe Beach.

The school engineering project was submitted to the council after great white sharks had been spotted in the area, prompting an open call for ideas.

Stella and a classmate, who were in Year 5 at St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls at the time, garnered praise from then-Cottesloe mayor Jo Dawkins over the assignment.

Speaking to Perth Now, Ms Dawkins praised the design, which allowed smaller fish to filter through to the pool, while keeping out larger predators.

“(The students) addressed safety issues, accessibility issues, social issues, and they’ve done it so creatively,” she said.

While the ocean pool never came to fruition, Ms Dawkins said that Stella’s idea was so impressive it could have been implemented at Cottesloe Beach.

In a picture accompanying the article, Stella is seen smiling next to Ms Dawkins along with a model of her ocean pool.

Six years later, on Saturday, Stella was pulled from the river near the Fremantle traffic bridge, south of Perth, just after 3.30pm (6.30pm AEDT) with significant injuries to her leg, according to reports.

Emergency services rushed to the riverbank but paramedics were unable to save her life.

WA Police confirmed just before 6pm (9pm AEDT) the girl had died at the scene.

“It’s an extremely traumatic event for everyone involved and obviously, anyone that knew the young girl,” Fremantle District Acting Inspector Paul Robinson told reporters.

“What we’re being advised is she was with friends on the river, they were on jet skis. It was possibly a pod of dolphins seen nearby and the young female jumped in the water to swim nearby the dolphins.”

Acting Inspector Robinson said the girl’s family were not present at the time and were “absolutely devastated by the news”.

“However her friends were and as you can imagine this is an extremely traumatic incident for anyone to witness so obviously, we’re offering counselling services to anyone who did witness it or is affected by the incident,” he said.

The teenager’s parents Sophie and Matt Berry issued three photos of their Stella and appealed for “space and time we need to grieve our darling girl”.

“We are devastated and deeply shocked by the loss of our beautiful daughter Stella,” they said in the statement.

“We want to acknowledge the amazing support we have received from our family, friends, authorities and the WA community.”

The couple told of the “vibrant and happy” 16-year-old’s plans to live in Europe after she finished school at Shenton College.

“She was a caring person and was a dear friend to many, across a variety of schools in the area,” they said.

“She had an infectious laugh which we couldn’t help laughing at too when we heard it. Our thoughts are with Stella’s many friends at this time.”

They also shared her passion for art, spending time with her friends and her love of the river and the beach. Stella had her skipper’s ticket and “often took friends out on the river for a day of scurfing.”

“She was a beautiful and loving big sister and the best daughter we could have hoped for,” the couple said.

Her friends, who gathered on the bank of the river on Sunday, have remembered Stella as smart and kind with a keen interest in running.

Her friend, Lara Connolly, described her as the “sweetest and smartest girl that I knew” and said she “never did anything wrong to anybody,” ABC News reported.

“She was so kind. She loved art. I’d ride my bike to see her sometimes and I’d see her running,” Ms Connolly said.

Another friend, Teagan McArthur, said Ms Berry’s death “doesn’t feel real”.

“We were all in contact with her less than 24 hours ago and now she’s not here with us.”

Her school, Shenton College, sent an email to parents on Sunday morning, offering its condolences to Stella’s family.

“It is with great sadness, sincere empathy and the deepest regret that I write to inform you that Stella Berry (Year 11) … tragically lost her life on Saturday 4th February in an incident at the river in North Fremantle,” Principal Michael Morgan wrote.

“I have personally offered, on behalf of the college, our condolences and support to Stella’s family during this very sad time.”

It’s the first shark attack in the Swan River since Perth man Cameron Wrathall was bitten on his leg in January 2021.

At the time, Mr Wrathall was the first person to be attacked since 1968.

Originally published as Perth shark attack victim Stella Berry once designed a shark-free ocean pool for a local council

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