After emerging from nests, neonate sea turtles entering the water are thought to orientate away from shore using wave cues to guide them out to sea. Artificial light may interfere with this process, but the relative importance of natural and anthropogenic cues to the dispersal of hatchlings is unknown. Here, we used acoustic telemetry to track the movement of flatback turtle Natator depressus hatchlings dispersing through nearshore waters. Turtles dispersed in the presence and absence of artificial light through a receiver array where a range of oceanographic variables were measured. Turtle tracks were analysed using a full subsets generalised additive mixed model approach to identify the most important cues influencing the bearing, variance in bearing (a measure of the ability to orientate directly), rate of travel and time spent in the array. Artificial light reduced their swim speed by up to 30%, increased the amount of time spent in nearshore waters (by 50 to 150%) and increased the variance in bearing (100 to 180% more variable), regardless of oceanographic conditions. Under ambient conditions, ocean currents affected the bearing of hatchlings as they left the shore, but when light was present, this effect was diminished, showing turtles actively swam against currents in their attempts to move towards light. After accounting for the effects of currents on hatchlings dispersing under ambient conditions, turtles swam offshore by moving perpendicular to the coastline and did not appear to orient into incident wave direction. Overall, light disrupted the dispersal of hatchlings, causing them to linger, become disoriented in the nearshore and expend energy swimming against ocean currents.