Ecosystem connectivity is an essential consideration for marine spatial planning of competing interests in the deep sea. Immobile, adult communities are connected through freely floating larvae, depending on new recruits for their health and to adapt to external pressures. We hypothesize that the vertical swimming ability of deep-sea larvae, before they permanently settle at the bottom, is one way larvae can control dispersal. We test this hypothesis with more than 3 × 108 simulated particles with a range of active swimming behaviours embedded within the currents of a high-resolution ocean model. Despite much stronger horizontal ocean currents, vertical swimming of simulated larvae can have an order of magnitude impact on dispersal. These strong relationships between larval dispersal, pathways, and active swimming demonstrate that lack of data on larval behaviour traits is a serious impediment to modelling deep-sea ecosystem connectivity; this uncertainty greatly limits our ability to develop ecologically coherent marine protected area networks.