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The climate crisis, Trump, the death of Grumpy Cat 2019 had some grim news. But amid the darkness were stories to treasure

Will we remember the news of 2019 fondly? I mean, no. It was grim and relentless marred by, among other things, the bloviating of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, the accelerating climate emergency, and by the deaths of Boo the dog, Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub. Just when we thought we were getting to the end of this godforsaken decade, a million penises were retched forth by the sea.

Yet even in the darkness there is likable content stories that did our hearts good. Here goes:

Humps are back

Two Humpback whales are swimming together among icebergs in the arctic ocean. Photograph: Monica Bertolazzi/Getty Images

After centuries of whaling, researchers worried humpback whale populations would struggle to recover. But their numbers are now up from mere hundreds in the 80s to over 25,000, exceeding experts most optimistic expectations. More good news for endangered species: sea turtle populations have officially increased 980% since becoming protected in 1973, and in February, Galapagos conservationists found a living member of a giant tortoise species previously thought to be extinct.

Keanu Reeves got cuffed

Beset by a lifetime of personal tragedy and meme-ified as the internets purest embodiment of despair, Keanu Reeves has long occupied the role of saintly yet enigmatically sad and self-professedly lonely celebrity dreamboat. This year, however, Reeves publicized his relationship with the artist Alexandra Grant, with whom, sources confirm, he is extremely happy. Were all happy for you, Keanu! Youre breathtaking!

The reefs are alive with the sound of music

Health reefs: music to conservationists ears. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

In Michael Ondaatjes poem Sweet Like a Crow, the clicking sound of a reef when you put your head in the sea is made out to be a nasty noise but this year, researchers found that when audio recordings of healthy reefs are played at the site of dying reefs, fish assume the reef is poppin and swim over to hang out, thus helping revitalize the ecosystem. Thats music to conservationists ears.

Megan Rapinoe kicked balls

Rapinoe: great player, great hair. Photograph: Benot Tessier/Reuters

This year, American soccer star Megan Rapinoe won the World Cup, the Golden Boot and the Ballon Dor, all while fighting homophobia and inequality in the world of sports, and delivering sick burns to the president. Oh, and her hair looked great the whole time.

Black beauty queens reigned supreme

All four major beauty pageants were held by black women. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

When Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe this December, it marked the first time that the top prizes in all five major beauty pageants were simultaneously held by black women a meaningful moment for diversity and representation, especially given pageants have long been criticized for their racism and antiquated, eurocentric beauty standards.

We understand Alzheimers better than ever

Could this be transformational? Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

We are on the verge of something truly transformational, Maria C Carrillo, head of research at the Alzheimers Association, wrote in Time this October. Not only are scientists newly optimistic that the drug aducanumab may slow the disease, but researchers at Berkeley have also found that drugs that relieve inflammation in the brain could slow or even reverse cognitive decline and German scientists learned how to monitor subtle early manifestations of Alzheimers long before clinical signs appear.

and we could stop HIV transmissions

Treatment can prevent transmission, research found. Photograph: Piyal Adhikary/EPA

A study published in the Lancet this May revealed treatment can prevent the sexual transmission of the HIV virus. The eight-year study found no cases of transmission between almost 1,000 gay male couples who had sex without condoms, in which one partner was HIV positive and treating the condition with antiretrovirals. These findings have enormous implications for the global treatment of HIV.

A quilting project stitched up our hearts

Craft that quilt! Photograph: Alamy

This autumn, Chicagos Shannon Downey bought a $5 unfinished quilt at an estate sale a crafting project initially embarked on by 99-year-old Rita Smith, who died earlier in 2019. The quilt design a representation of every American state flower and bird in a hexagon was so ambitious it took Downey and a hundred volunteer women across the US working together to finish it this year, which they did in honor of Smith and the underrated value of crafting.

A Thai grocery store went bananas

An a-peeling solution. Photograph: Liz Mcburney/The Observer

In an effort to reduce plastic waste from produce packaging, Thai grocery chain Rimping began using banana leaves (which are sturdy, waxy and usually discarded) and biodegradable banana-fibre twists to secure bundles of fruit and veg. Banana leaves may not be an option in North America, but Rimpings a-peeling solution is a good reminder that meaningful innovation need not be complicated.

Greta the great

Thunberg knows whats up. Photograph: Giulio Lapone/Rex/Shutterstock

This year, teen activist (and Time magazines person of the year, and coiner of Collins English Dictionarys word of the year climate strike) Greta Thunberg became the fresh face of climate action, focusing international attention on environmental injustice, pressuring governments to respond to the escalating global climate crises and inspiring the largest climate demonstration in human history. Her advocacy has repeatedly elicited tantrums from Donald Trump on Twitter, which Greta has deftly deflected with clever clapback bio updates.

A community got 3D-printed roofs over their heads

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/18/news-2019-best-stories-year