Human-driven threats to coastal marine communities could potentially affect chemically mediated behaviours that have evolved to facilitate crucial ecological processes. Chemical cues and their importance remain inadequately understood in marine systems, but cues from coastal vegetation can provide sensory information guiding aquatic animals to key resources or habitats. In the tropics, mangroves are a ubiquitous component of healthy coastal ecosystems, associated with a range of habitats from river mouths to coral reefs. Because mangrove leaf litter is a predictable cue to coastal habitats, chemical information from mangrove leaves could provide a source of settlement cues for coastal fishes, drawing larvae towards shallow benthic habitats or inducing settlement. In choice assays, juvenile fishes from the Caribbean (Belize) and Indo-Pacific (Fiji) were attracted to cues from mangroves leaves and were more attracted to cues from mangroves distant from human settlement. In the field, experimental reefs supplemented with mangrove leaves grown away from humans attracted more fish recruits from a greater diversity of species than reefs supplemented with leaves grown near humans. Together, this suggests that human use of coastal areas alters natural chemical cues, negatively affecting the behavioural responses of larval fishes and potentially suppressing recruitment. Overall, our findings highlight the critical links that exist between marine and terrestrial habitats, and the importance of considering these in the broader conservation and management of coastal ecosystems.