The present invention concerns the synthesis of several biomimetically important polymer-supported, sulfonated catechol (PS-CATS), sulfonated bis-catechol linear amide (PS-2-6-LICAMS) and sulfonated 3,3-linear tris-catechol amide (PS-3,3-LICAMS) ligands, which chemically bond to modified 6% crosslinked macroporous polystyrene-divinylbenzene beads (PS-DVB). These polymers are useful for the for selective removal and recovery of environmentally and economically important metal ions from aqueous solution, as a function of pH. The Fe.sup.3+ ion selectivity shown for PS-CATS, PS-2-6-LICAMS, and PS-3,3-LICAMS polymer beads in competition with a similar concentration of Cu.sup.2+, Zn.sup.2+, Mn.sup.2+, Ni.sup.2+,Mg.sup.2+, Al.sup.3+, and Cr.sup.3+ ions at pH 1-3. Further, the metal ion selectivity is changed at higher pH values in the absence of Fe.sup.3+ (for example, Hg.sup.2+ at pH 3). The rates of selective removal and recovery of the trivalent metal ions, e.g. Fe.sup.3+ Al.sup.3+ ion etc. with the PS-CATS, PS-2-6-LICAMS, and PS-3,3-LICAMS polymer beads use determined are useful as well as equilibrium selectivity coefficient (K.sub.m) values for all metal competition studies. The chelate effect for the predisposed octahedral PS-3,3-LICAMS polymer pendant ligand is the reason that this ligand has a more pronounced selectivity for Fe.sup.3+ ion in comparison to the PS-CATS polymer beads. The predisposed square planar PS-2-6-Mn.sup.2+, Ni.sup.2+, and Mg.sup.2+, than either PS-CATS or PS-3,3-LICAMS. However, Fe.sup.3+ ion still dominates in competition with other divalent and trivalent metal ions. In the absence of Fe.sup.3+, the polymer ligand is selective for Al.sup.3+, Cu.sup.2+ or Hg.sup.2+. The changing of the cavity size from two CH.sub.2 groups to six CH.sub.2 groups in the PS-2-6-LICAMS polymer pendant ligand series does not effect the order of metal ion selectivity.