In this study, raw and formaldehyde-modified Sargassum sp. are used for heavy metal removal. A series of experiments shows that the chemical modification by formaldehyde improves biosorption capacity by approximately 20%. Solution pH plays an important role in the metal uptake. According to X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopic analysis, the possible organic functional groups in the metal binding include carboxyl, ether, alcoholic, hydroxyl, and amino functional groups. A new model that includes a series of coordination reactions among a generalized functional group, alkaline earth metal ions and heavy metal ions, is developed for simulation of biosorption process. The model well describes the single- and multiple-species metal biosorption process under different conditions such as pH. The biosorption of heavy metals is due to the ion exchange between the heavy metals and alkaline earth metals and their adsorption onto the free sites of the seaweeds. Slightly more than half of the metal uptake is due to ion exchange. The metal affinity for the functional groups follows a descending order of lead > copper > alkaline earth metal.